Recently, the Netherlands demanded the withdrawal of 600,000 face masks sourced from China because of issues relating to inadequate filters and incorrect fit. The outbreak of COVID-19 and the effect this has had in disrupting the supply chain for Japan, has now prompted the Abe Government to announce a $2.2 billion economic package to help Japanese companies to shift their production bases from China. How is India, the second-most-populous country in the world, with a mere 0.8 doctors per 1,000 citizens (as compared to 4.8 in Germany, 2.6 in USA and 2.0 in China) and none-too-impressive health infrastructure, better positioned in its fight against the coronavirus? Although a straight comparison of affected cases (a factor of the levels of testing and other aspects) and fatalities may not be the best indicator of how countries have coped with this challenge, it cannot be entirely ignored too. It was very critical to ensure that India’s health system at no stage gets so overwhelmed that it is unable to attend to patients affected by COVID-19, like what was witnessed in countries with much better resources. The initiative taken by Prime Minister Modi in organizing and sharing good practices and experiences in tackling the Virus in international forums like the SAARC and G-20 has been widely welcomed and appreciated. In a country of the size of India, with an average population density of 464 people per square kilometre, the challenges for sustaining lives and livelihoods are huge and daunting. The migrant labour issue, providing food (both cooked and uncooked) to people within and outside of the Public Distribution System (PDS), the resumption of manufacturing activities both in the Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSME) and heavy industries, farming and fishing and several other economic activities call for deft handling and more importantly calibrated implementation—all while never ever taking the eyes off the ‘COVID-19 ball’. From an international perspective, India’s initiatives and the goodwill they generate is likely to make the world and especially the West revisit their undue reliance and overdependence on China. India with its very young population, its geopolitical location, its democratic system (with warts and all), its ecosystem of start-ups, its strength in the IT and services sector, can provide and be that ideal alternative to a China which is being increasingly seen as a secretive country that hides diseases and data alike.
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